Our friend Matt Ritter wrote a column in the recent Pacific Horticulture on choice palms for West Coast gardens. He quoted us on our favorites — palms with wide cultural tolerances that are unusual but still available to the motivated gardener and designer. The fastest-growing of the three we discussed is Brahea armata var. clara, the Sonoran fan palm.
Our neighbors around the corner at the wastewater treatment plant have planted a trio of Brahea armata var. clara in a low-water garden. We think they look smashing, of course.
For the first few years they’ll need regular dry-season irrigation to get established, but after a while they’ll need only occasional deep watering to look good.
A variant of the more commonly cultivated Baja California native Brahea armata (Mexican blue palm), the “clara” grows faster in California’s cool-summer climates and tolerates our higher humidities. It seems to suffer little damage at temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and possibly lower. Its fronds are softer than the Baja strain’s and rustle nicely in the wind.
Eventually they will develop 18- or even 24-inch-thick trunks with crowns spanning 10 feet. Upon maturity they will produce garlands of cream-colored flowers that resemble marabou stoles. Spent leaves may remain attached to the trunk in the manner of the familiar Washingtonia robusta (Mexican fan palm), or they can be pruned off as they fade from blue-green to yellow and finally to straw color. Leafstalks (petioles) connecting the big fans to the trunk are armed with curved teeth: menacing to the eye but less painful than most roses’ thorns.
We’re bullish on claras. We hope they’ll become popular additions to the landscape in the years to come. They’re easy to care for and add a sensuous silvery tone to the garden.